Education is an extremely important part of our lives. We begin learning from the moment we are born, and whether we realize it or not we are still learning when we take our last breath. It is a part of us we cannot part from.
Education can take various forms. We learn day to day functions that help us survive. We learn how to perform a trade that will bring us in a livelihood. We learn hobbies and fun activities. We learn how to interact with people. We learn more about ourselves and our communities. We learn that there is so much more to learn.
Education — The Way it Used to Be
Formal education is something more structured and usually limited by time and money. Centuries ago if you did receive an education, it was because your family was able to hire a tutor. And even then it was not always extended to the females of the family. The boys were tutored and only if they planned on pursuing a life of being a lawyer or going into the priesthood was further education even encouraged. Most secondary education was provided by the church. If you could not afford the education, you were lucky to be able to make a mark for your name.
In America ,the first settlers did not have the advantage of many tutors peddling their services nor did they have the established universities to enhance their education. So, mothers did what mothers do. They stepped up and homeschooled their young children. Now, not all the early settlers were religious but a large majority were. They used the Bible as their only textbook and began the task of teaching their children basic things such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Everything else of importance was taught hands on and was the survival techniques of the day.
The years went by in the New World, and structure began to take shape. The religious orders saw a need for advanced education on their side of the ocean and set up the early universities: Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and William and Mary being just a few. As had been in the past, it was expensive, and usually only those heading into a religious occupation received the advanced learning.
The children began to be collected into the well-known one-room schoolhouses and being taught by a teacher who had the advanced training needed to give them the basics of life. The community as a whole or the actual families whose children attended the school paid the salary of the teacher which sometimes included room and board with someone local. It was not expected for a child to stay in school for twelve years. Once the basic reading and writing was established and they could add enough to get through life, they were back earning a living for their families.
The start of the one-room schoolhouse in the 1800’s was to consolidate the learning and freed up the mothers to do more work around the homestead. All children, no matter their age or grade, were taught at the same time with many of the older students placed in the back. Many mothers still taught at home the early ages and then passed the children on to the schoolhouse when more learning was needed that might even go beyond the mother’s educational level.
School System Today
The invention of the automobile changed the course of American education. The ability to travel longer distances more quickly made it possible to consolidate the scattered schoolhouses. Therefore more students were centralized and the need for more teachers became apparent. But now the expense of it all as the educational system became more formal needed to be addressed. The individual families were more numerous, the teaching staff increased, the school maintenance increased, and the formal structure needed guidance. Therefore, the local governments took control and used taxes to pay for the educational system of the communities.
The government taking the education out of the hands of the families had some really great advantages. More money was available for more resources and the children were able to expand their education like never before. Combining needs and resources can make major differences.
But as with all things, what seems good at the moment might have adverse effects down the road.
The Benefits — The Pitfalls
Over the years, school systems have been improving in many levels. But they have been plummeting in others. Financially they are proving to be disasters. Each year or so they present a need for an increase in funding that reaches into the millions. Teachers’ salaries (though I feel they are hugely inadequate) are not increasing at such astronomical rates. When asked to account for much of the funding, many of the districts give vague answers or show where spending is done for the sake of spending and not for the advancement of the education of the young children.
The safety of our children has also been questionable in many districts. We worry about guns, knives, and rape as we send our youngsters out to be educated preferably in reading, writing, math, history, and other such topics. We worry that our taxes are paying for metal detectors, security guards, and lawyers. What is the education we are giving our children now?
Complaints began to be made about not having choices in schools. The answer in the early years was to pull your child out and place them in a private school. This was extremely expensive and many parents could not afford that on top of paying taxes for metal detectors. Solutions began to be offered by various school districts in offering vouchers. This system seemed the solution. The tax payers’ money allocated to your child’s education would be transferred to the school that she attends. If you didn’t like little Jane attending Dangerous elementary you could put them in another school in the district or look to a private school where you felt she would be safer. The problem here was that the other schools might deny Jane attendance due to space and the private school might not accept the voucher because if it was a religious school the local school district then had the legal rights to dictate what was taught and how it was taught. The “solution” had its share of problems, too.
Homeschooling became the alternative. The number of homeschoolers have escalated over the years. In fact, the homeschooling business is one of the fastest growing even in a bad economy. Parents are pulling their children out of school for religious reasons, safety, and in general concern of the quality of education they might receive in their respective school districts. But many people still would love to see the structured school room, but how do we accomplish this while keeping politics outside of it all?
An idea emerged that is reality has been around a long time. Why not privatize the schools? Let the government collect the taxes for the education of our youth and put a set dollar amount on Jane and John’s education. That amount would follow them wherever they attended school. The school of choice would not need to be based on location. You would take the money allocated for Jane and apply at the various private schools that you would like her to attend. That leaves much of the burden to supply an excellent education on each of the schools, because competition has entered the picture. If you want the students to attend, you will give them the best. If you want the money allotted to them, you will give them a reason to come there. The teachers would be paid based on their excellent ability to teach a child and not based on a set rate for their level established by the school district.
Opposition to the privatization of schools comes from many of the people who don’t have children in the school system and yet pay the taxes for them. If they are paying taxes to the government, they don’t want their funds being used to pay for the education of children in religious schools. If it was still in the hands of the local government, they feel like they have more control over what is being taught.
I’m not saying that this is the best solution, but it is one that needs to be explored. Adam Smith suggested this back in 1776 in his well-known work Wealth of Nations. It has been purposed many times over the years as a means to take the politics out of it, to clean up corruption, and put much of the education of the children back in the hands of the parents. Many parents cannot homeschool, but they will at least have a choice in where their children attend and feel secure in those decisions.
Is the direction that America’s school systems need to go? Is privatization the solution for our children’s education?